Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s head honcho, on Thursday hosted a video walkthrough of what he believes the metaverse could be. “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet,” he said. In fact, he said a lot of things like this: “The metaverse is the next frontier.” He care so much that he renamed the company: “I’m proud to announce that starting today our company is now Meta.” This frontier is about business — creating a future to “unlock a massively bigger creator economy,” as Zuckerberg put it. Most notably, Zuckerberg and Vishal Shah, Facebook’s head of metaverse projects, made a big pitch about the metaverse to creators in this presentation. “Commerce is going to be a big part of the metaverse,” said Shah.
Creators — funny people, famous people, game streamers, cooking influencers, just generally hot people, makeup and beauty trendsetters, momfluencers, rogue therapists, financial pitchbros — are the backbone of the TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram ecosystems. Notably, they’re absolutely not a part of Facebook. Signaling that the future of Facebook is all about people who make their living from fans is a very smart move. (Instagram’s creators, whose lives are sometimes hobbled by Facebook policies and by its random rule enforcement, may arrive with some suspicion.)
This is how Facebook can attack its competitors for a younger audience: Give creators more of what they want — more business tools, better service, and more creative tools.
This video presentation was preceded by a short video in which Zuckerberg vaguely berated haters who, he said, wanted him to fix the present. But nothing, he said, would stop him from crusading into the future. “With all the scrutiny and public debate, some of you might be wondering why we’re doing this right now,” he said. “This is the future we want and I’m going to keep pushing and giving this everything I’ve got.” Later in the presentation, he chastised other big players in the online ecosystem for being exclusionary, locked down, and expensive, saying they were “holding back the internet economy.”
For the rest of us, the metaverse isn’t quite as wonderful yet. For one thing, Facebook does not allow nudity on its platforms and so it’s unclear how people will have weird sex in the metaverse.
Much of the rest resembles Tron. Zuckerberg attended a virtual meeting on this “embodied internet” at a space station where people were dressed like aliens and robots (Zuckerberg put on a Zuckerberg outfit) and also couldn’t identify anyone.
On the tour of the metaverse, friends went to a concert where they streamed the concert live to their friends, something that will make musical artists extremely happy, and then to an after-party where people will be dressed as dinosaurs.
Then they talked about gaming and fitness and a combination of gaming and fitness (can you box with a giant alien in space in the metaverse? Maybe!). A brief moment was spent on education, which seems underdeveloped.
And, of course, then there’s work. “I think remote work is here to stay for a lot of people,” said Zuckerberg, summoning up a Minority Report office nightmare. “Imagine a space where you can tune out distractions and focus on the task at hand.” Then essentially he logged into a workspace where he could then log into all the things we log into now, just in a cleaner and larger space. Honestly, would rather work there than in my room.
The presentation ended with a lot of talk about hardware and interfaces, much of which had chilling implications for things like deepfakes, impersonation, privacy, harassment, crime, revenge, revenge porn, and bad things yet to even be thought of.
This ends nearly two weeks of rampant speculation about the future of Facebook and of Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder, chief executive, and controlling shareholder.
In mid-October, The Verge reported that Facebook intended to reveal a new company name “to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media.”
Facebook has something like 10,000 people working in jobs related to augmented reality and virtual reality. This related division, Facebook Reality Labs, will spend something like $10 billion this year, the company said in its most recent earnings call.
Facebook is now in the news constantly, since a former employee delivered images of thousands of pages of internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were then redacted and distributed to Congress and a number of major news organizations, which began publishing a seemingly endless stream of stories in the last week.
These documents tend to show that employees had for years warned leadership that Facebook’s presence around the world has undermined fairness and truth in civic life and promoted suffering. When USA Today headlines “Facebook Papers reveal company knew it profited from sex trafficking but took limited action to stop it,” things are definitely not going well.
In addition, the documents show some of the downside of having a guru-like founder-leader for a long period of time. “He’s just ill-equipped for the task ahead of him,” tech journalist Kara Swisher told Intelligencer this week.
The documents also show that the company is panicked about how much young people hate Facebook — “The teen brain is stimulated by novelty,” one internal document asserted — even as a younger cohort tends to love Instagram, owned by Facebook for nearly a decade now.
Even Instagram is beset by Snap and TikTok, and also by anxieties. Shortly before Instagram’s cofounder Kevin Systrom left in 2018, he was embarking on a mission about how to build a product that would increase, not reduce, human happiness. He hasn’t posted on Instagram since.